Chile breathes life into architecturally-unique shopping malls

Modern renovation project in Santiago promises to revitalize the once high-end, commercial galleries of Chile’s capital city to their former glory.

Galeria La Merced, in Santiago Centro, is one of the traditional galerias to be included in the project. Photo by Jolly English Pirate / Facebook
Galeria La Merced, in Santiago Centro, is one of the traditional galerias to be included in the project. Photo by Jolly English Pirate / Facebook

The center of Santiago is home to exactly 71 indoor gallery complexes whose first constructions date back to 1850. Their architecture and design make them unlike any other in Latin America.

Extremely popular within Santiago’s high society between 1925 and 1970, these unique shopping galleries are now the focus of a huge renovation project. In May 2014, plans got underway to re-establish the patrimonial beauty of these galleries and to modernize their appeal for the 21st-century tourist.

“The galleries form part of a commercial hub very particular to Santiago’s historic city center. There are very few places in the world with these kinds of characteristics and which can successfully be transformed into a space of great worth,” Genaro Cuadros, architect and director of the shopping gallery renovation project, explained to LaTercera.

The unique architectural design of Santiago’s shopping galleries is one of the aspects this renovation project aims to promote. Barrio Cívico, the neighborhood which falls between Plaza de Armas and the Mercado Central, was in part designed by the Austrian architect, Karl Brunner, who also worked on establishing particular design rules for these shopping galleries.

Brunner’s design ensured that the indoor passageways inside each of the 71 shopping galleries in the area would make it possible for pedestrians to cross from one outdoor street to another. These interconnecting corridors allow city dwellers to use the shopping galleries as a means of moving around the city at speed, as well as areas in which to shop.

The benefits of the project, funded by the regional government to the tune of 189 million Chilean pesos, roughly US$345,000, are centered around the increase of business for gallery-store owners. However, the decision to fund the renovation was also certainly seated in Chile’s desire to cherish its heritage and restore elements of Santiago’s patrimony to their former grandeur.

To ensure the best possible results from the renovation, project leaders will be managing the project from three separate angles: social, physical and technological. The changes which take place will be implemented with the city’s urban, commercial and touristic contexts in mind.

One of the basic ways in which project leaders aim to make improvements through the re-design of the galleries is via the injection of more light.

“Many galleries are presenting us with difficulties. They’re very dark and the idea is to illuminate them in a sustainable way,” Cuadros added.

The team believes that by brightening each gallery as much as possible, the beauty of the original architecture will be revealed and it will be easier to return them to their former glory.

The social angle of the project will aim to encourage gallery-store owners to initiate a re-focus on business ideas and products which support the national identity of Chile — sophisticated and authentic merchandise which will generate a real enthusiasm from tourists and help to make Santiago’s galleries the center of international interest as they once were.

Santiago Innova, a business accelerator managed by Santiago’s municipality, will be acting as a go-between throughout the 18-month project. It will be distributing materials and useful resources provided by organizations, including the Chilean Economic Development Agency (Corfo) and Capital Semilla, a business advisor, to the gallery-store owners.

“We want to take advantage of this area in order to capture the attention of the constant flow of visitors who pass through the interior areas of the blocks in the city center. We want to enrich these circuits, but we also want to ensure the people involved are given plenty of opportunities to make developments,” Cuadros concluded.

The technological aspect of the renovations hope to positively affect the touristic experience in Santiago, building on the successes of similar ideas in London, UK, and various cities across Canada. One idea is to develop a Smartphone application to encompass the 71 galleries within the city center, providing tourists with an online guide which could even include discounts and store locations to help shoppers find what they are looking for more easily.

“The idea for the future is to implement a more effective management system to cover the administrative needs of these public spaces and to ensure that this system is designed in such a way that it provides a better user experience for visitors,” Cuadros explained.

Santiago’s unique galleries may have been overshadowed by the expansion of the nearby Providencia neighborhood at the end of the 70s, but locals are excited to see them honored once again. Renovations have begun, as Santiago leads the way towards yet another stunning example of national heritage and modern advancement co-existing happily side by side.